AU from right before Naruto kicks the Akatsuki's collective butt. Instead, he is captured.

on the count of three

1. No, Sakura thinks, watching black cloaks with red clouds disappear into the trees. Around her, the dust of Kohona fills the air and stings her throat, turns the salty tear tracks into rivulets of mud. They have Naruto.

2. Sakura tries to remember how to think.

3. And then, with the remains of Kohona at her back and no one her side, she begins to run. Please, she begs the wide-open sky. Please let this work.

1. "They killed Kakashi," says Sakura, tired and sore and muddy and feeling as dead as she ever has. Sasuke stares at her, all black eyes and crossed arms and haunting memory, and she remembers that he could kill her. That he might kill her. That she is very, very lucky he has not killed her already.

2. "They have Naruto," she says, and wonders if he feels the shock and horror in even some portion of what she does. Or hears the other words, the words she does not say, because they simply are not strong enough to make it past her swollen throat. Help me save him.

3. Sasuke steps foreword, too fast, like a blur, and Sakura knows to be scared, so she steps back, down, into a crouch. But he so fast, and he already has a hand around her wrist and when she looks up, ready to scream or cry or send a fist flying into his face, it is to a gaze that is serious, fervent, and he says, "I know where they would take him."

1. Naruto looks up at Sasuke and Sasuke looks down at Naruto. There is a second where Naruto seems to choke on air, stunned into silence for the first time in his life. Sakura wonders which of so many words will make their way out first. Then Naruto says, in a voice that is deceptively calm and not at all in congruence with his expression, "You came."

2. Sasuke scoffs and rolls his eyes; Sakura wonders if it is only her foolish, hopeful heart that manages to give the action meaning of, Of course I came, dobe.

3. And as he pulls Naruto to his feet with a rough yank and a hiss of "hurry!" he pushes his shoulder under the others boys arm and accepts the weight that falls. To Sakura, tripping over her feet to get to Naruto as well, to bear her part of the burden, it looks like finally.

1. She waits, with her heart in her throat and her stomach beneath the floor, thinking that this is stupid, she is stupid, but she is Sakura and so this is how is has to go. He stares back at her, one eyebrow hoisted in mild, careful surprise. She notices a world of little things, in that adrenaline-filled moment. He needs to shave, for one; she can see a little patch gray with stubble on his right jawbone. And he has a scratch on his forehead, showing out from behind his headband where it has somehow became crooked. And his eyes are much wider, much more open, much different than they were those months ago, when he first came back.

2. He hasn't so much as moved, and she thinks she might cry. Perhaps laugh. At herself and at him and because she knows he hates to see her tears of weakness.

3. "I love you too," he says as he steps forward, raises his arms, and waits for her to fall into them. The words are not even out completely when she is wrapping her arms around his neck, standing on her tiptoes to do so, fisting her fingers in his hair and laughing. Not to keep from crying, or through joyous tears, or anything like that. Just laughing, because she is happy and happier still when a rumble and a breathy sound near her ear tells her he is laughing too.

1. And she's pushing, pushing, pushing – pushing harder than she's ever pushed in her life, and it is so hard, so very hard, because this is not a strength that can come from chakra and concentration and perfect control – and it hurts, hurts, hurts, like she's being torn apart from the inside, like all her muscles are turning to jelly and all her insides bursting at the seems.

2. She is still pushing, still huffing breath through the bitten off moans, when Sasuke leans down. Clenched in the tight ball of her fists, his fingers try to give her hand a reassuring squeeze. "Almost," he says in a cool puff of air against her too hot, too sweaty cheek.

3. Then there is a high, small wail, coming from that bloody spot between her legs and when Sakura looks, past the nurse and the blankets and her own not-so-round-anymore stomach, Sasuke is already there, and he is smiling like a man he never was before.

note: I am disgustingly out of practice and currently in a funk resulting from the fact that Kishimoto is trying to kill my hopes and dreams. With that in mind, in order for one to accept this odd/bizarre/wtf-ish way in which this fic is written, one must first accept that in my world, seconds are very long, lingering things, full of time in which to muse with fruity adjectives. And people can talk pretty fast when it suits my needs :D